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  • Stephen A. Ruffa

Your Fitness or Your Life: Is Your Health Club Making You Choose?

Updated: Jan 5

It’s that time of the year again for making New Year’s resolutions. Each year one of the top resolutions is to exercise more. Normally the benefits are clear. But this year you might want to think twice. Why? During this pandemic, getting fit might mean putting your safety at risk.


The most frustrating part is that all of this could be fairly simple and inexpensive to fix. The problem is that the way most people look at fitness facilities focuses our attention on the wrong things. My club, for instance, looks appealingboasting spacious, light-filled spaces that are loaded with clean equipment, visibly staffed by employees and trainers. Yet, these outward features can easily distract us from critical details, causing us to miss major gaps in Covid-19 protection protocols that expose customers to real dangers.


One way to see these gaps is to look at the facility from the perspective of a value stream—a popular lean visualization method. This involves tracking people as they move through their workout from beginning to end—from checking in at the front desk, progressing into the locker room, through each exercise, until they've finished for the day and walk out the door. This approach is powerful because it assesses risk from an individual perspective—revealing whether customers are exposed at any point as they progress through each station throughout their visit.


As I followed my value stream—moving station to station through my own workout—it became easy to see major safety risks that I hadn't recognized before. For instance, equipment that at a glance seemed adequately spaced was now obviously too close to permit proper social distancing. It's positioning makes frequent, close-range encounters with mask-less people almost unavoidable, forcing un-masked exercisers to squeeze past other workout stations, exposing dozens of people with each trip. The layout is so poor that the many staff members on duty cannot begin to enforce the state’s face covering law, and seem to have stopped even trying.


How bad is it? At the end of my workout, I stood and watched one section of the facility to calculate the exposure rate. I counted 20 people exercising in that section. During a seven-minute timeframe, 19 of these 20 people were exposed to potential infection—a rate of exposure of 95 percent! If any one of people was a Covid-19 carrier, almost everyone would be at high risk of infection during their much longer time frame visiting this facility.


What can you do? Don’t waste your time complaining. Without viewing the process as I had done, the club’s management doesn't seem to recognize these problems—at least that's how it appears.


Instead, when visiting your fitness club don’t be dazzled by fancy equipment and clean-looking facilities. Walk from end to end and look at how the people, equipment, and staff will interact with you. Mentally trace your value stream to see if you’ll be safe during your workout.


Do you still feel safe? If not, perhaps the healthiest choice is to find another way to stay fit until the Covid-19 pandemic comes to a close.

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